Stephen King is considered a master of his craft, publishing books that often rivet and churn readers to their seats. As a result, his 2018 debut novel for the year, The Outsider, was met with an abundant amount of excitement surrounding it. It held the number one rank as the most read book on Amazon months after release, causing the book to be an undeniable success, all in the name of King’s reputation and extensive resume. However, while The Outsider may feature clever and original ideas that bolster its impressive first act, its final two acts are as unnecessary as they are clichéd. The first act of the book is able to capture ideas and themes that have rarely been covered to such a degree in any work of literature. But instead of continuing with such an original concept, King opts for a more traditional approach, causing the experience to feel somewhat muted and mellow in its execution. Ultimately, The Outsider is still an enjoyable read that explores deep, thoughtful philosophical concepts in its brilliant first act but then plunges into familiar and clichéd territory, creating a novel that unfortunately can’t become anything more than another horror story.
As mentioned before, the sheer quality of King’s first act is astounding to behold. He balances cleverly written characters alongside a fascinating plot. His primary protagonists, the officer Ralph and the suspected baseball coach Terry Maitland, continue to serve as intriguing and compelling characters throughout the two hundred pages which were filled with a rare amount of suspense and tension. The thrill of trying to discover the truth of the seemingly impossible situation helps this first act keep its bold flavor and ultimately proves to be one of the most unique concepts that King has envisioned for his books. While reading the first act, I was beginning to think that The Outsider was more than just one of the best books of the year so far; it could be one of the best books that King has ever written. The sheer impressiveness of the first act cannot be overstated by any literal means. However, from there, The Outsider turns into a predictable story that still keeps its enjoyment factor present but loses the brilliant concepts the first act proposes.
Ultimately, The Outsider feels like two separate stories, linked only by the same setting and roster of characters. When reading the second and third acts of the book, I was taken off guard with the jolting transition between a philosophical masterpiece and a clichéd horror story that has littered the genre for so long. When faced between delving into the philosophical themes that the first act proposes, it seems that King opted for the easiest way out, eliminating all the tension that the first act is able to build up so well. As a result, when the events beginning growing in speed and the pacing speeds in a breakneck speed, there is no tension for any of the aspects of the story, from the plot to the characters themselves, as King has destroyed my interest as a reader thanks to the clichéd turn of events that takes place halfway in the book. As a whole, in terms of plot, The Outsider poses some truly fascinating concepts and develops a stature for an amazing story, but instead chooses a more familiar, formulaic route that disappoints me as an avid fan of King.
When it comes to the characters of Stephen King, they often feel like wool puppets being controlled by several strings connected to the fingers of one central master. They often feel like characters being placed in a situation for the purpose of the story rather than characters who naturally develop themselves into the situation. The Outsider is no exception to this. While the characters are intriguing, particularly Terry Maitland as the accused baseball coach, they never feel like real people, especially in the third act due to the sheer lack of reasoning and sense of authenticity that their actions sometimes cause. However, due to this fact though, it allows for some truly excellent moments, moments that are sparingly placed throughout the somewhat lengthy 560 page-length. Surprises and plot twists are around every corner in The Outsider, even though some critical events can be seen from a mile away. Ultimately, the characters of The Outsider feel like genuine works of Stephen King, a compliment for creating some masterful moments and sequences but a detriment for creating innovation in one’s storytelling.
As a whole, The Outsider feels somewhat like a mess, where two opposing concepts are forced to merge into one experience. While certain plot holes raise questions, the sheer brilliance of first act overwhelms the clichés of the final act, creating an experience that is worth the 566 pages it takes to read. It may not be the best book that Stephen King has crafted over his impressive career, but it is an enjoyable read that should keep avid fans and readers happy until the next great King masterpiece. However, for fans that want something more than a traditional horror story very much in the essence of King’s writing style, they may be disappointed with what they find in The Outsider.
Score: 6.2 out of 10
An unspeakable crime. A confounding investigation. At a time when the King brand has never been stronger, he has delivered one of his most unsettling and compulsively readable stories.
An eleven-year-old boy’s violated corpse is found in a town park. Eyewitnesses and fingerprints point unmistakably to one of Flint City’s most popular citizens. He is Terry Maitland, Little League coach, English teacher, husband, and father of two girls. Detective Ralph Anderson, whose son Maitland once coached, orders a quick and very public arrest. Maitland has an alibi, but Anderson and the district attorney soon add DNA evidence to go with the fingerprints and witnesses. Their case seems ironclad.
As the investigation expands and horrifying answers begin to emerge, King’s propulsive story kicks into high gear, generating strong tension and almost unbearable suspense. Terry Maitland seems like a nice guy, but is he wearing another face? When the answer comes, it will shock you as only Stephen King can.